This is part of our 90s Week series. Read more here.
The 1990s are widely regarded as one of the worst decades for horror movies, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad era by any means. Following the golden age that was the 1980s was always going to be an arduous task, whereas the 2000s gave us some incredible films that reflected the cultural mood of a world experiencing dark times — not to mention a surge in popularity for international fare.
The ‘90s are merely stuck between two decades that seem more remarkable in comparison, but they still produced their fair share of bona fide classics, unsung gems, and entertaining schlock. In fact, the ‘90s were actually a pretty great time for horror, especially when you consider all of the original films that were released back then.
The ‘90s preceded the remake boom, so originality was still thriving. Studios gave directors like Paul W.S. Anderson blockbuster budgets to make movies like Event Horizon. Wishmaster was unleashed into theaters and made our depraved cinematic wishes come true. Deep Rising conquered the oceans and our hearts. And none of these great flicks even made it on to this list.
With this in mind, now is the perfect time to revisit ‘90s horror and appreciate some of its finest efforts. This list contains a nice mix of big hitters and entries whose inclusion even surprised our little Boo Crew, so expect reading this one to be a fascinating adventure for you.
20. The Frighteners (1996)
The Frighteners was the under-seen, mis-marketed nail in the coffin for Peter Jackson’s weirdo genre phase, the last of a series of bizarre, horror-inclined, films including Bad Taste, Dead Alive, and Heavenly Creatures. Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a sad sack ex-architect who lives on the outskirts of town in a dream house he’ll never finish. Oh yeah, and ever since the traumatic car crash that killed his wife, he can see ghosts. Turning “my wife is dead” lemons into lemonade, Frank and a handful of befriended spooks cause “hauntings,” for Frank to “exorcise” for a fee. Thing is, death has become something of a sore spot in town: perfectly healthy folks are dying of heart attacks. And when Frank notices glowing numbers on folks’ foreheads, he starts to suspect something strange and spectral is afoot. The Frighteners is like if Evil Dead II, Flatliners, Ghostbusters, and Nekromantik had an orgy. It’s energetic, psychotic, and its only crime is failing to put Jeffrey Combs and Jake Busey in a scene together. So Jackson, listen: come back to the goop swamp of B-movie genre cinema. We’ve missed you. And for the love of scythe-wielding Jake Busey: work with Jeffrey Combs again. (Meg Shields)
19. Serial Mom (1994)
John Waters rarely, if ever, disappoints. While Serial Mom‘s initial reception was rather muted — the film wasn’t extreme enough for Pink Flamingos fans and not mainstream enough for Hairspray fans — it deserves to be regarded as one of his strongest films. Kathleen Turner delivers a bonkers committed performance as Beverly Sutphin, a suburban housewife who appreciates good manners, enjoys birdwatching, and has no qualms about slaughtering anyone who crosses her. Hilarious throughout and delivering a rather scathing satire of celebrity and the justice system, Serial Mom is truly the mother of all horror-comedy films. (Anna Swanson)
18. Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
I love Jason Takes Manhattan. Sure he doesn’t actually “take” the island until the final 20 minutes, but when he does — my god. The shot of Jason in Times Square is pure fucking cinema. But if you want a film that pays off on the promise of Friday the 13th Part VII, then Maniac Cop 2 is for you. Directed and written by New York City auteurs William Lustig and Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop 2 is a supernatural slasher about a lumbering hulk of an undead police officer, played by the always effective Robert Z’Dar, wreaking havoc throughout the five boroughs. While Matt Cordell has a higher sense of awareness than Jason Voorhees, they both are tanks of killers, remorselessly mowing down their victims on their paths of revenge. Like Lustig and Cohen‘s other work, it’s a pure snapshot of The City at a time when it was filled with a dangerous allure, that for better or worse, has been lost over the decades. But they are able to capture that griminess, juxtapose it with over the top action-horror, and create a film that is both wonderfully fun and still eerily topical. (Jacob Trussell)
17. Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Jacob’s Ladder isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s perhaps the most unsettling movie on this list. As far as horror that gets under your skin goes, it’s a fine movie for getting into one’s soul and ravaging it. The movie follows a Vietnam veteran whose world is falling apart. His days are spent in New York City and the darkest reaches of madness, walking a fine line between reality and phantasmagorical hallucinations. The mind-bending scenes are confusing, but they’re also nightmare-inducing and ambitious. As a metaphor for veteran PTSD, the movie isn’t subtle by any means. It does, however, get its point across with aplomb and stays with you long after the end credits roll. (Kieran Fisher)
16. Fire in the Sky (1993)
Even though there are a bunch of entertaining alien invasion movies out there, few are as horrific as this one. I’d argue that it’s one of the only movies out there to depict extraterrestrial abduction with hard-hitting realism. The scenes on the ship here are truly something; nerve-inducing yet utterly compelling. It treats a subject that’s often dismissed as conspiracy theorist nonsense with straight-faced respect, which makes for a thought-provoking experience. The cast here is also stellar, with an ensemble that includes the always reliable Robert Patrick and James Garner delivering the goods. Fire in the Sky is also allegedly based on a true story, and we should all believe that because aliens are real. May this movie be a warning to you. (Kieran Fisher)